And the pitch was disarm now

Times Staff Writer

This column explores the juncture between celebrity and politics.

Iranian dissident Akbar Ganji arrived in town this week to an intimate gathering that included just about every politically active leading man around. Warren Beatty, Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Mark Ruffalo and Jake Gyllenhaal attended the reception at producer Mike Medavoy’s Beverly Hills estate Wednesday night to meet Ganji, a human rights activist who was imprisoned in Iran for six years.

Ganji was unfazed by the celebrity attention, but the presence of Beatty caught Ganji’s interpreter off guard. “Are you Warren Beatty? That’s Warren Beatty!” she said. Medavoy, who moderated the event, joked: “None of us care.” Said Beatty: “Yeah, that’s for sure.”

Addressing the standing-room-only crowd of about 75 people for an hour, Ganji urged complete disarmament in the Middle East. (The suggestion didn’t go over well with media mogul Haim Saban, who argued that Israel needs its nuclear weapons as a deterrent.)

Ganji responded to Saban: “The only way is to ban the bombs for everyone.”


Pitt (clad in black) had to leave the event early -- making a bit of a ruckus when he raced off on his motorcycle. Penn, looking like a workaday actor in a rumpled blue suit, thanked Ganji for coming, saying people need to hear his message of nonviolence. Ruffalo agreed. “This has put a whole new face on Iran for me,” the actor said. “It deepens it and makes it more human.”

After the speech, Ruffalo and Gyllenhaal retired to Medavoy’s screening room, where they watched trailers for “All the King’s Men” (starring Penn and produced by Medavoy) and their 2007 thriller, “Zodiac,” about the real-life serial killer who terrorized San Francisco in the 1960s and ‘70s.

As the evening closed, Ganji -- who is traveling the country addressing various groups -- said he believed it was essential to meet with the Hollywood crowd. “I’m here to have a conversation,” he said. “We’re trying to reach out to different people and exchange ideas.”

Gibson’s new role: election liability

California state Sen. Tom McClintock, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, spent much of the week trying to distance himself from his strongest Hollywood supporter: Mel Gibson.

A spokesman for McClintock told reporters that the candidate would no longer use a three-page letter -- written by the actor, now the center of controversy because of an anti-Semitic rant -- to raise money for his campaign.

“Tom saw the news and the situation as it was unfolding with Mel Gibson and made a conscious decision to direct people not to use the letter any further,” his campaign spokesman, Stan Devereaux, told the Associated Press. “He was disillusioned by the situation with Mr. Gibson.”

Gibson wrote the letter for the conservative senator from Thousand Oaks last year.

The missive, signed by Gibson and sent by McClintock on several occasions to potential donors, states that McClintock would use the lieutenant governor’s office as a “powerful engine for governmental reform.”

In the letter, Gibson said he didn’t usually support political candidates but was impressed by McClintock’s record.

“He stood solidly for principles that might not be politically correct -- but were right and true,” Gibson wrote.

“I hope you are a person who is willing to stand up and fight for the fundamental principles that this country’s founders believed in

McClintock is running against state Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi, the Democratic nominee, in the November election.

Lohan shoots for singing to troops

Last week, Madonna told Time magazine that she plans to go to Africa to visit children who have lost their parents to AIDS.

This week, Lindsay Lohan told Elle magazine that she also wants to make a difference -- by traveling to war-torn Iraq to do a concert for U.S. troops.

“I wanted to do what Marilyn Monroe did, when she went and just set up a stage and did a concert for the troops all by herself,” she said. “It’s so amazing seeing that one woman just going somewhere, this beautiful sex kitten, who’s basically a pinup, which is what I’ve always aspired to be.”

Lohan said she had hoped to make the trip with U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), but it didn’t work out. “Hillary was trying to work it out, but it seemed too dangerous,” Lohan told the magazine.

Lohan also said a member of her security detail told her she should “know how to shoot” if she was planning to go to Iraq. “My security guard is going to take me to a gun range.”

Barbs aren’t just on Bush’s ranch

President Bush tried to take a few days off this week, retreating to his Texas ranch for a shorter-than-usual summer vacation. It was enough to make late-night talk-show hosts take notice:

“As you know, when President Bush is down on his ranch, he likes to spend his time clearing brush and chopping wood, because no matter how much legislation you pass to cut down trees, there’s nothing like destroying them with your own hands,” Jay Leno told audiences.

Said Jimmy Kimmel: “This will be his shortest vacation since he’s taken office. Usually he takes a full month, this time around, because of the wars and everything, only 10 days. I guess he’s saving up the personal days so he can skip the last three months of his presidency.”

Bush wasn’t the only one taking a ribbing. Sen. Joe Lieberman’s (D-Conn.) primary defeat was another popular topic.

“People were stunned,” Leno said. “He could have been vice president of the United States. To give you an idea of how bad Lieberman got beat, even Mel Gibson felt sorry for him.”